Leeks are an understated vegetable, usually only used in soups where the flavour gets lost. They are an allium, which makes them a member of the onion family along with garlic, shallots and chives.
They are affordable, easy to find, incredibly versatile and, when cooked properly, delicious. When raw the flavour can be very strong, but when cooked it becomes sweet and delicate. Leeks are also a great way to eat fresh vegetables in winter when not much else is available unless it’s imported (especially if you live in colder climates).
Leeks have been part of our menus for centuries. There’s archaeological evidence of leeks being used in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. It is now one of the symbols of Wales and it’s widely used, including iconic Welsh dishes leek and potato soup and cock-a-leekie.
If you’d like to try growing your own, check the RHS website for great information, they are a good way to keep your garden productive during Autumn and Winter as leeks are the easiest member of the onion family to grow.
Leeks can be found in the market from September to May, but they are at their best between October and March.
Nowadays leeks can be bought from supermarkets year-round.
Leeks should be firm and undamaged. The green parts should be bright and the white unblemished.
Avoid buying trimmed and pre-chopped leeks, they are very expensive and dry out a lot faster. If you’re going for convenience, get frozen (usually sliced) or canned (sliced or whole baby leeks).
Baby leeks tend to be more expensive than fully grown.
Cut the roots and any dried out tops and keep in the fridge up to two weeks inside a container or a bag (or the whole fridge will smell of leeks!). Don’t wash until needed.
Leeks can also be frozen whole or chopped, and will last up to a year if properly protected.
If you’re growing your own, you can keep them in the garden until you need them.
Leeks can have a lot of dirt between the leaves. Cut it lengthwise in half or quarter or chop it and then wash with running water before using.
Throw away the root if you didn’t before. The green tops can be used, their flavour is less like onions and more like greens. They can be stringy, so better left for stocks, or blended soups. Outer leaves can be used unless they are damaged or dried.
Once chopped 1 pound of leeks will give about 2 to 2.5 cups (depending on how much is discarded and how thinly it’s sliced).
- Raw: baby leeks can be sliced or chopped and eaten raw. Fully grown leeks can be eaten raw if sliced very thinly and used sparingly as the flavour can be overwhelming. Best for salads or as garnish.
- Fried: best for chopped or baby leeks. Fry until soft or golden. Can be used a an onion replacement as the base for a sauce, soup or stew.
- Deep fried: best for baby leeks. Battered and deep fried, especially good added to a tempura platter.
- Stir-fried: chopped or baby leeks, takes about 5 minutes.
- Steamed: for chopped or baby leeks.
- Boiled: for chopped, whole or baby leeks. It should take between 5 and 10 minutes, overboiled leeks become mushy and slimy. A great addition to soups and stews, a bit bland as a side.
- Roast: best for whole or baby. Leeks can be roasted uncovered (and turning every 10 minutes or so) or wrapped in foil.
- Grilled: for whole or baby leeks. They can be grilled on a hob or open fire, uncovered or wrapped in foil. A great BBQ vegetable.
- Braised: best for chopped or baby leeks. Fry for a few seconds, add stock and cover. It should take between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the thickness.
- Pickled: yes, leeks can be pickled, either as real or quick pickles. Baby leeks are best, but it will work for the white section if sliced as well.
- Vegetables: potatoes, green leaves, winter squashes, carrots, green beans, garlic, cauliflower, peas, artichokes, seaweed, mushrooms, celery, bell peppers
- Fruits: citrus, apples, prunes, raisins
- Herbs, spices and condiments: vinegar, paprika, parsley, aniseed, coriander, bay, thyme, mustard, soy sauce, tarragon, sage, ginger, chilli
- Others: cheesy flavours (such as nutritional yeast), chicken, smoky flavours, pasta, bread, rice, tofu, barley, lentils, beans
- If used for flavour: yellow or brown onions, shallots, ramps (basically wild leeks, can be very hard to find in shops but easy to forage) or negi (Japanese vegetable, hard to find and expensive outside of Japan).
- If used as a garnish: green onions (scallions)
- If used as a vegetable side: asparagus, chard, pak choi.
Recipes on Make the food
- Leek growers association: lots of recipes, yearly contests, and lots of information.
If you have any favourite recipes, ways to prepare or any tips share them in the comments.